Think of a catchy word or brand name associated with guns, and you’ve probably thought of a hot baby name. Firearms are making a mark in American names, from Cannon to Pistol to Remington to Colt.
As a baby name trend, firearm names aren’t the only thing. I was just last week tallying up all the new X names from Xavier through Roux. Gun names stand out because they don’t adhere to the one rule that today’s parents have in naming. They are very close to politics, which was once a common naming theme but has been almost impossible for the past generation.
The 2012 statistics on baby names and firearms were the first time I reported on this trend. 2017 statistics show an increase in firearms adoptions. Over that five-year period, the number of American babies receiving gun-related names rose by 58%. There are now more than 8,000 firearm-named babies each year.
- To be able to accurately assess the name phenomenon, I didn’t start with the names. Instead, I looked at the guns. I searched through numerous glossaries of firearm terms and lists of manufacturer names, looking for any that might be plausible as baby name options. (Caliber yes; DE cocker no. The list contained 60 possible names. Twenty of these names were included in the baby name statistics for last year. That means they were given to at least five newborn American boys or girls last year:
- Barrett Colt Pistol Tracer Benelli Gauge Remington Trigger Beretta Gunner Ruger Walther Caliber Kimber Savage Wesson Cannon Magnum Shooter Winchester
- The majority of the 20 names were unknown a generation earlier, including terms like Trigger and Shooter and brands like Benelli and Ruger. There had been no erasure of any gun name from the previous generations. This expansion in the number of names used reflects a wider movement towards creativity and individuality when it comes to baby naming. However, the direction of this creativity is quite telling. The growth of other categories of possessions and goods has not been as rapid.
- Names given to our children are a direct indicator of culture and values. Siblings named Magnum and Beretta make a statement about a family’s interests and identity, just as siblings named Gandalf and Éowyn or Coltrane and Ellington would. Guns are a cultural and political divide in America, unlike other interests. Ruger’s name is not only unusual, but also controversial and divisive.
- Today’s parents avoid political names, despite the increasing political discord. In the past, every new military leader or presidential candidate would have a number of names. Watergate is the beginning of the end for homages to leaders. Although spouses and kids of politicians can spark trends because they are treated more like regular celebrities but partisanship is not allowed in baby naming.
- We are seeing so many firearm names in a time when they are fraught with partisan markers. Although some parents might choose to be ideological, the vast majority of those who choose gun names are just having fun and being energetic. Many families and communities have a positive view of firearms. Names like Trigger or Gauge can be used to denote power and sport, as well as the Wild West, such names like Maverick or Zane.
- Parents might feel dismayed that their child’s names could cause division by choosing names that are positive and upbeat. If this is you, do not take it as a judgement but just as a heads-up. Non-gun-owners often think of violence as a way to have fun. Some firearm names like Barrett and Colt are open to everyone, but more aggressive names might be considered offensive.
- These names aren’t the only ones that can cause polarization in today’s baby name charts. Creative baby names are undoubtedly divisive. After all, the word for “broadly beloved” is “popular.” As parents shun anything they perceive as too popular, they look for names that people don’t agree with. The more eye-catching and unique the choice, then the more heated the argument will be. And when the eye-catching choice falls along a political fault line, the response to a name can be inflamed by existing societal polarization—as the response to this column doubtless will be.